Four decades after the release of their defining anthem 'Another Girl, Another Planet', Peter Perrett is emerging from 20 years of drug-fuelled exile to make music again
Peter Perrett is one of the great ‘could have beens’ of the punk era. An enigmatic force fronting The Only Ones, his songs combined a razor-sharp sense of melody and a dark, sardonic wit, making him one of the more unique voices of the late seventies. By rights, The Only Ones should have an honoured place in punk’s pantheon, standing alongside The Buzzcocks, The Jam and The Undertones. They bridged the gap between the genre’s original shock troops and the more melodic new wave acts that followed.
It wasn’t to be. A familiar tale of excess and addiction (particularly heroin and crack cocaine) curtailed the band’s career. Despite releasing three well regarded albums between 1978 and 1980, The Only Ones have become a pop culture footnote. The band’s big hit, ‘Another Girl, Another Planet’, is a soaring riff-laden memorial to a band with so much promise who never really gained the notoriety they deserved. As for Perrett, he continued along the path of nihilistic decadence laid out in that song, spending almost twenty years in a drug fuelled exile.
Notwithstanding a brief comeback in the mid-nineties, it looked like Perrett was done with music, but in 2007 The Only Ones were asked to reform on the behest of The Bad Seeds’ Warren Ellis, who had been asked to curate an ATP. Although he wasn’t well enough to really enjoy it, it did relight the need to make music again, and Perrett’s wife Zena struck while the iron was hot and quickly booked him a short solo tour. Playing some new material and appearing on stage with his kids Jamie and Peter Jr, the shows attracted passionate audiences and glowing reviews.
Spurred by this new sense of momentum, forthcoming debut solo album ‘How The West Was Won’ is the fruit of Perrett’s first studio sessions since 1996. Due for release on Domino later this month, it’s a remarkable, raw-sounding piece of work, blending stripped back, mature pop with sarcastic cynicism. Conceptually, it’s a record that covers a lot of distance, with songs tackling issues as diverse as mental health, addiction, mortality, US cultural hegemony and Kim Kardashian.
If Perrett’s tale is a cautionary one, it’s also one without woe or regret. Many might think that ‘How The West Was Won’ is an exercise in redemption or making up for lost time, but Perrett doesn’t really see it like that. You get the feeling that his life has always been a choice between hard drugs and music; it’s just that now, at the age of 65, he’s picked music once again. I met him near his home in north London.
“I didn’t go out of the house for a few decades”
… and probably didn’t get out of bed for a few years, so actually doing stuff has taken some adjustment. It’s all been a shock to the system. This week I’ve been shooting videos, playing gigs in Berlin and editing, so I probably won’t have the energy to do anything by the time the weekend rolls around. I’ll be quite happy just to lay on the bed and recover.
Doing nothing isn’t the best way to live your life, but it’s the choice some people make. I much prefer to be making music. I’m really pleased that it’s the only passion in my life now. It’s so nice to be able to do it properly. When you’re young you have other passions in your life, like girls, drinking and partying and stuff, and music becomes a bit of a side-line. On this album, it feels like the first time that I’ve been able to concentrate on it properly.
“I hadn’t even played the guitar in years”
I only picked up the guitar again when The Only Ones reformed in 2007. Warren Ellis from Nick Cave’s band was curating an ATP and asked if there was any chance of us getting back together to play the festival. We did it but I felt that I was there physically, but I wasn’t there mentally. I don’t think I was strong enough to do myself justice.
It was only in 2015 when I got myself healthy. I stopped smoking cigarettes and joints and that helped me to recover a bit of my energy. My wife booked four gigs in Amsterdam, London, Manchester and Bristol, and just playing the guitar with the renewed energy of being slightly healthier than I used to be was a revelation.
“I think if I hadn’t gone to sleep in 1980 then maybe it would feel a bit more like a job by now”
I’ve never approached music in that way. I’ve never really had the chance to become this jaded musician because I’ve only ever been a musician for short periods of my life.
I think I’m quite fortunate to be in the place I am now, because it’s like starting again. I just do what I do. I go into the studio, play live, and hope the songs come across. On the new album, I’ve consciously tried to make it as naked as possible by having the vocals mixed up loud. I think that my individuality is in my voice and my lyrics and it was important that these came across. Yeah, there’s room for great musicianship as well, but it’s important that the playing didn’t submerge the lyrics.